Lawmakers hope to pass a budget bill and adjourn the 2016 legislative session on Sunday. A plan to address the state’s $290 million budget gap is ready for debate.
There will be plenty to debate.
The bill delays a $99 million payment to the state’s pension fund until 2018, a controversial move to free up cash. And it would depend on Gov. Sam Brownback to make a 3 percent cut to most state agencies.
Brownback also would take $185 million from the state highway fund and reduce funding to state universities by about $17 million.
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Legislative leaders are hopeful for a Sunday departure from Topeka, but it’s not expected to be an easy exit.
“It may take several budgets before we get there,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican.
While the bill leaves much for Brownback to cut, it directs that funds for K-12 public schools can’t be reduced.
“We’ve been very consistent when we passed the block grant that we want stable and secure funding for our schools in unsecure times,” said Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican and House Appropriations Committee chairman.
Brownback appears to be on board with the bill. His spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, sent a message late Saturday night that the governor had reviewed the bill and “believes it is something he can sign.”
The delay to the pension fund, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, and the 3 percent state agency cuts were included in three packages of options Brownback recommended to the Legislature for closing the $290 million shortfall.
“We took bits and pieces of all three of the governor’s recommendations,” Ryckman said.
The budget bill would leave the state with a $27 million ending balance for the fiscal year through June 30 and an $81 million ending balance for next fiscal year.
While the protection of K-12 school funding drew praise Saturday, the delay in the KPERS payment troubled lawmakers.
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, said she opposed the move.
“I can’t believe we are holding on to this terrible tax plan on the one hand and doing this to KPERS on the other,” she said, a reference to the 2012 income tax cuts many blame for the state’s repeated budget shortfalls.
The bill includes protections for making up the payment to the pension system with 8 percent interest, including tapping any revenue that comes in above the state’s revenue estimates and using funds from the state’s tobacco settlement receipts above the amount appropriated for early childhood programs.
Another controversial provision in the bill was requested by Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman. It would change the way future spending cuts are applied to state universities.
The change would mean bigger cuts for the University of Kansas and Kansas State University while reducing the cuts to smaller universities such as Pittsburg State.
KU’s cut would be about $5 million next year and K-State’s would be $4 million, in each case about $1 million more than under a previous formula.
House and Senate leadership had planned to debate the budget bill late Saturday night, but as the hour neared midnight before debate had begun, lawmakers grew restless.
And a holdup arose in the Senate on a health bill that dealt with a variety of matters, including physician certification in Kansas and allowing midwives to deliver babies without a doctor’s signature. Some senators wanted to add language that would prohibit midwives from performing abortions.
Attempting to add language at that point in the process violated a legislative rule, said Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican.
But Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, said there were higher principles.
“What is most important is the protection of innocent human life,” she said.
Bryan Lowry of The Wichita Eagle contributed to this report.